Erelesk Votalin, aka Emperor Neminatrix IV, stood on the bridge of his flagship, Berserker, with his hands clasped behind his back and a broad smile on his face. He had won a great victory this day. The forces of the pretender, Jimalin Redlamin, had been smashed by his superior might, and the pretender himself was dead. The casualties suffered by his own forces were minimal. One destroyer had been lost with all hands, and one cruiser was badly damaged and would have to spend considerable time in the orbital shipyards at Medradi. A small price to pay for such a stunning victory.
“Your service pleases me,” Neminatrix said to the man standing behind and to the left of him. “The work you have done over the past two years has been nothing short of exemplary. It is due to your tireless efforts that we stand at the brink of greatness at this moment.”
“To hear such praise from one such as yourself is truly humbling, Your Majesty,” said Jefmin Lakatai with a bow. “And yet, I cannot help but feel that my work is incomplete. Most of the dead pretender’s forces were able to flee into the waiting arms of the pretender who still lives. I cannot be truly pleased with my service, knowing that I permitted such a grievous blunder.”
“All in due time, my friend,” Neminatrix said, turning and giving Lakatai a genial grin while clapping him on the back. “We will deal with General Mifalis and those who follow him. His treachery will suffer the same fate as that of Redlamin. For now, let us savor this moment, and let it infiltrate our minds and spur us to greater feats in the days to come.”
Onboard Ranger, the mood was considerably less festive. Infiltrating Votalin’s fleet and destroying Redlamin’s had been child’s play compared to what came next. Now that Votalin and his forces thought the battle was over and were relaxing, now was the time to strike, to hit them hard, and flee into subspace, back to Numoris. There was still the small matter of the teams of Imperial marines onboard. Lodimeur was hoping that they might be recalled to their own ships once the battle was over, but so far there was no sign of that happening. No, the Fangalin ships were going to have to strike with Imperial marines on board, and deal with the consequences of that action.
He and Captain Nonmar were on the bridge, to give the marines the illusion that Ranger was still being commanded from the bridge. In reality, all of the rest of the regular bridge officers were on the forward observation deck, waiting for the signal from Lodimeur to begin the assault on Votalin’s ships. Commander Alten, Nonmar’s XO, was in command of Ranger for this mission. All Lodimeur and Nonmar were going to do was sit on Ranger‘s bridge, and watch, and hope that nothing went wrong.
Lodimeur pressed a button on his command console. That was the signal, simple and subtle, and hopefully completely unnoticed by the marines standing behind him. A few seconds later, Ranger and the other 11 ships in Lodimeur’s task force began moving on an intercept course towards the rest of Votalin’s fleet.
“What are you doing, Colonel?” asked the sergeant in charge of the marines coldly.
“Me?” Lodimeur asked, feigning ignorance. “I’m not doing anything!”
“Don’t give me that crap,” the sergeant said with a sneer, moving toward Lodimeur and pointing his rifle directly at Lodimeur’s head. “This ship is headed on an intercept course toward the rest of the fleet! Now, you better come clean about what you’re plotting here, before I blow your lousy head off.”
“Go ahead and blow my lousy head off if you must, Sergeant, but it won’t help you at all,” Lodimeur said calmly. “I am not in command of this vessel.” The sergeant glared at him for a second, and then swung his rifle around to point at Nonmar’s head instead.
“You!” he barked. “Order this ship to stand down, NOW!”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Nonmar said grimly. “I am not in command of this ship either.”
“Order this ship to stand down, or I will blow your friggin’ head off!” the sergeant bellowed.
“Neither of us can do that, Sergeant,” Lodimeur said firmly, placing himself in between the sergeant and Nonmar. “This vessel is now under the command of Commander Omilai Alten, and all command access codes have been transferred to him. In addition, all command access has been transferred off of the bridge. You may kill Captain Nonmar and I if you wish, Sergeant, but doing so will gain you nothing.” The sergeant glared at him with naked rage and hatred, and then whirled to face one of his soldiers.
“Contact Berserker!” he snarled. “Advise them of the situation here!” The soldier nodded and started pressing some buttons on a tablet, but suddenly he stopped and looked up at the sergeant with a horrified expression on his face.
“Sergeant!” he gasped. “They’re jamming our communications! I can’t get through to anyone! I can’t even reach the other teams on this ship!”
“Withdraw from the bridge!” the sergeant roared. “We’ll link up with the team in CIC and figure out where they transferred command access!” He and the other marines on the bridge started to move toward the doors, but as soon as they did, the doors burst open, and Fangalin marines stormed in and quickly surrounded the room, weapons aimed at the heads of the Imperial marines. There were three times as many Fangalin marines as there were Imperial marines. The sergeant and his fellows gaped at them with shock and fury.
“You see,” said Lodimeur in grim satisfaction, “you are the real prisoners here. Now drop your weapons and surrender peacefully, or you will all die.” The look of black malice on the sergeant’s face never changed, but he dropped his rifle on the floor, and the other Imperial marines quickly followed suit. Fangalin marines quickly swooped in, gathered up the discarded weapons, and bound the defenseless Imperials.
“Now, let’s hope that went as smoothly everywhere else,” Lodimeur muttered to himself.
To be continued…